Naomi Lorrain

Historian Marisa Fuentes, Urogynecologist Ambereen Sleemi, Public Health Specialist Erin Anastasi & Playwright Charly E. Simpson join Actor Naomi Lorrain to discuss the context of BEHIND THE SHEET

From left: Marisa Fuentes, Ambereen Sleemi, Erin Anastasi, Charly Evon Simpson, Naomi Lorrain

From left: Marisa Fuentes, Ambereen Sleemi, Erin Anastasi, Charly Evon Simpson, Naomi Lorrain

On February 2, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BEHIND THE SHEET, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, everyone is encouraged to stay for the third and final talkback about the historical and scientific context of the play, as well as the many issues it addresses, especially the history of gynecological surgical techniques, the rights of enslaved women to be used for experiments, what urgent gynecological concerns exist today in the developing world, and much more. Joining Charly will be Marisa J. Fuentes, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History at Rutgers University, Ambereen Sleemi, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response, and Erin Anastasi, Coordinator of the Campaign to End Fistula at the United Nations Population Fund, for a conversation moderated by actor and research scholar Naomi Lorrain (Philomena in the play).

BEHIND THE SHEET confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.

The World Premiere of BEHIND THE SHEET is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Professor Marisa J. Fuentes

Professor Marisa J. Fuentes

Marisa J. Fuentes is the Presidential Term Chair in African American History and Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and History at Rutgers University—New Brunswick. Her scholarship brings together cultural studies, critical historiography, and black feminist theory to examine gender, sexuality, and slavery in the early modern Atlantic World. Professor Fuentes is the author of Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016) which won the Barbara T. Christian Best Humanities Book Prize, the Berkshires Conference of Women’s Historians First Book Prize, and the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Book Prize from the Association of Black Women Historians. She is also the co-editor of Scarlet and Black: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, Volume I (Rutgers University Press, 2016), and the “Slavery and the Archive” special issue in History of the Present (November 2016).  

Dr. Ambereen Sleemi

Dr. Ambereen Sleemi

Ambereen Sleemi is a female pelvic medicine reconstructive surgeon (urogynecologist) and trained obstetric fistula surgeon. She is Co-founder, Executive Director and Surgical Director of International Medical Response and leads a medical relief project in Puerto Rico, and fistula training programs in Malawi, Liberia and Haiti. Dr. Sleemi serves as an obstetric fistula surgeon for the Eritrean Women’s Project in Mendefera, Eritrea since 2007, and as a surgical team co-leader for Medicine in Action’s spring trip to Kingston, Jamaica as well as on the medical board. She spent six years on the executive committee of the International Society for Obstetric Fistula Surgeons (ISOFS) and is still an active member. In January, 2013, she developed the Haitian Women’s Heath Collaborative in partnership with the Department of Ob/Gyn at the National Hospital in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Erin Anastasi with children in northern Uganda (Gulu district) where she worked on a project with MSF/Doctors Without Borders.

Erin Anastasi with children in northern Uganda (Gulu district) where she worked on a project with MSF/Doctors Without Borders.

Erin Anastasi is Coordinator of the Campaign to End Fistula and Technical Specialist for Sexual & Reproductive Health (SRH)/Obstetric Fistula in the Technical Division at the United Nations Population Fund. In 2017, the United Nations Federal Credit Union Foundation awarded Erin its Women’s Empowerment Award for her leadership of the Campaign.  She received her doctorate in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of London and her Master of Health Sciences from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Launched in 2003, the Campaign to End Fistula now consists of over 100 global partners working in more than 55 countries across Africa, Asia and the Arab region. In each country it focuses on prevention by increasing access to quality maternal health care services; treatment, from training doctors in fistula surgery to equipping and upgrading fistula centers; and rehabilitation/reintegration, including emotional, economic, and social support.   

Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson

Charly Evon Simpson is the author of BEHIND THE SHEET, this year’s EST/Sloan mainstage production. Her other plays include Jump, Scratching the Surface, form of a girl unknown, it’s not a trip it’s a journey, Stained, Hottentotted, Trick of the Light, While We Wait, who we let in, or what she will, and more. Her work has been seen and/or developed with Ensemble Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, Chautauqua Theater Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, The Flea, P73’s Summer Residency, National New Play Network through its NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and National Showcase of New Plays, and others. Jump will receive an NNPN Rolling World Premiere, with productions at Playmaker’s Rep (Chapel Hill, NC), Actor’s Express (Atlanta, GA), Milagro Theatre (Portland, OR), and Shrewd Productions (Austin, TX) in 2019-20.  She’s currently a member of WP Theater’s 2018-2020 Lab, The New Georges Jam, The Amoralists 18/19 ‘Wright Club and she’s The Pack’s current playwright-in-residence. Charly is a former member of SPACE on Ryder Farm’s The Working Farm, Clubbed Thumb’s 17/18 Early Career Writers’ Group, Ensemble Studio Theatre's Youngblood, and Pipeline Theatre Company’s PlayLab. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at SUNY Purchase and an engager at The Engaging Educator. 

About the Moderator

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff).

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff).

Naomi Lorrain plays Philomena in the world premiere production of BEHIND THE SHEET by Charly Evon Simpson at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Naomi is a New York City-based actor, playwright and scholar. She received her B.A. in the History of Science, History of Medicine and African American Studies from Yale University and her M.F.A. in Acting from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She works part-time as a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her plays include A Trojan Woman’s Tale (Villa La Pietra), The Queen of Macon County (The National Black Theatre), Shelfies (The 52nd Street Project), The Big O (Villa La Pietra), and Rigor Mortis (NYU Tisch). Recent theater credits include What to Send Up When It Goes Down (Movement Theatre Company), Stained (The Amoralist), Song for a Future Generation (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Restoration Comedy (The Flea), and Daughter of Lot (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). TV: “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix), “Elementary” (CBS), “The Good Fight” (CBS), “Madam Secretary” (CBS). As a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant, she has worked on several books, including Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive by Marisa J. Fuentes. At Yale, her senior essay “Plan B: The Collision of the Birth Control Movement and the Uplift Movement Viewed Through Works of Angelina Weld Grimké” received both the Lily Rosen Prize in Women's Health for best essay that contributes to knowledge about women’s health and the William Pickens Prize for outstanding senior essay in the field of African and African American Studies.

BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through February 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.

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Historian Deirdre Cooper Owens, Gynecologist Nerys Benfield and Director Colette Robert join Actor/Scholar Naomi Lorrain to discuss slavery, the birth of gynecology in America, and BEHIND THE SHEET

From left: Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens, Dr. Nerys Benfield, Colette Robert, Naomi Lorrain

From left: Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens, Dr. Nerys Benfield, Colette Robert, Naomi Lorrain

On January 26, following the 2:00 pm matinee performance of BEHIND THE SHEET, the powerful new drama by Charly Evon Simpson, everyone is encouraged to stay for what promises to be a provocative discussion of the many issues the play addresses, especially the history of gynecological surgical techniques, the rights of enslaved women to be used for experiments, race and gender relations in nineteenth-century America, and much more. Joining the play’s director Colette Robert will be Deirdre Cooper Owens, Associate Professor of History at Queens College, CUNY, and author of Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology, and Nerys Benfield, Associate Professor and the Director of Family Planning in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine for a conversation moderated by actor and research scholar Naomi Lorrain (Philomena in the play).

BEHIND THE SHEET confronts the history of a great medical breakthrough by telling the forgotten story of a community of enslaved black women who involuntarily enabled the discovery. In 1840s Alabama, Philomena assists a doctor—her owner—as he performs experimental surgeries on her fellow slave women, trying to find a treatment for the painful post-childbirth complications known as fistulas. Reframing the origin story of modern gynecology, the play dramatizes how these women supported each other, and questions who, and what, history remembers.

The World Premiere of BEHIND THE SHEET is this year’s mainstage production of the EST/Sloan Project, EST's partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to develop new plays "exploring the worlds of science and technology," an initiative now in its twentieth year.

About the Panelists

Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens

Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens

Professor Deirdre Cooper Owens is Associate Professor of History at Queens College, CUNY in Queens, New York and an Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) Distinguished Lecturer.  She has served as an American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology Fellow in Washington, D.C. and is a board member for the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. Her first book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender and the Origins of American Gynecology (UGA Press, 2017) won the 2018 Darlene Clark Hine Book Award from the OAH as the best book written in African American women’s and gender history. Professor Cooper Owens is also the Director of the Program in African American History at the Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution. In the fall of 2019, she will join the University of Nebraska, Lincoln’s Department of History as the inaugural Linda & Charles Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine and the Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program. Copies of Medical Bondage will be available for saleand signing by the authorfollowing the talkback.

Dr. Nerys Benfield

Dr. Nerys Benfield

Dr. Nerys C. Benfield is an Associate Professor and the Director of Family Planning, the Fellowship in Family Planning, and the Global Women's Health Program at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. She is a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist in Bronx, New York and is affiliated with Montefiore Medical Center. Her research interests include the integration of contraceptive counseling, access, and distribution into medical care for high-risk women both domestically and internationally, uro-genital fistula, and clinical training and health technologies in low-resource settings. Dr. Benfield has worked in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo since 2008 where she has developed an academic collaborative research and clinical training program with research interests that include the integration of contraceptive counseling, access, and distribution into medical care for high-risk women, uro-genital fistula, and methods to optimize evidence-based clinical training and the use of health technologies such as information and communication technologies (ICT) and ultrasound in low-resource settings.

Colette Robert

Colette Robert

Colette Robert is the director of the world premiere production of BEHIND THE SHEET by Charly Evon Simpson (New York Times Critic’s Pick) at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Her recent directing credits include: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (NYU Grad Acting), Mary’s Wedding (Chester Theatre Company), Big Love (Sarah Lawrence College), How My Grandparents Fell in Love (EST, New York Times Critic's Pick), What Every Girl Should Know (NYU/Stella Adler Studio), Hottentotted (The Tank, Ars Nova/ANT Fest), The Mountaintop (Chester Theatre Company), Icons/Idols (The New Ohio/Ice Factory Festival), Flops, Failures, and Fiascos (The Civilians), and When Last We Flew (Diversionary Theatre and FringeNYC, GLAAD Media Award). As a playwright, her play The Harriet Holland Social Club Presents the 84th Annual Star-Burst Cotillion in the Grand Ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel has been developed with Fuller Road Artist Residency, New Georges, Mabou Mines, and The Drama League. Colette is a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre, a co-facilitator of the New Georges Jam, and an adjunct lecturer in the Humanities department at Hunter College. 

About the Moderator

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff)

Naomi Lorrain (Photo: Stan Demidoff)

Naomi Lorrain plays Philomena in the world premiere production of BEHIND THE SHEET by Charly Evon Simpson at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Naomi is a New York City-based actor, playwright and scholar. She received her B.A. in the History of Science, History of Medicine and African American Studies from Yale University and her M.F.A. in Acting from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. She works part-time as a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Her plays include A Trojan Woman’s Tale (Villa La Pietra), The Queen of Macon County (The National Black Theatre), Shelfies (The 52nd Street Project), The Big O (Villa La Pietra), and Rigor Mortis (NYU Tisch). Recent theater credits include What to Send Up When It Goes Down (Movement Theatre Company), Stained (The Amoralist), Song for a Future Generation (Williamstown Theatre Festival), Restoration Comedy (The Flea), and Daughter of Lot (Edinburgh Fringe Festival). TV: “Orange Is the New Black” (Netflix), “Elementary” (CBS), “The Good Fight” (CBS), “Madam Secretary” (CBS). As a Scholars-in-Residence Research Assistant, she has worked on several books, including Dispossessed Lives: Enslaved Women, Violence, and the Archive by Marisa J. Fuentes.

BEHIND THE SHEET began previews on January 9 and runs through February 10 at EST. You can purchase tickets here.

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